COLUMBIA — When Walter Edgar published his "South Carolina: A History" in 1998, the state was moved light years in its ability to reach a broader understanding of its past.
Dressed in seersucker pants with suspenders, Edgar swivels in his desk chair at the University of South Carolina and reaches for sources from the stacks and stacks of history books that surround him to provide the source for everything he says. He refuses to embellish or suppose; he is a historian and his answers deal with recorded facts from reputable sources. Among the books are evidence of his love for the state — bricks from varying places and times, a bottle of Fighting Cock bourbon, an impressionistic Palmetto pastel, a bumper sticker that says "I Brake for Boiled Peanuts."
With his thorough knowledge of the state's history, Edgar agreed to give a perspective on Orangeburg's place in that history during the 1700s. In response to interview questions, following are his answers and synopses of information from his book.
Q: What is the significance of the date 1704 to Orangeburg?
A: A land grant to property in that area bearing the date 1704 was issued to someone (Henry Sterling), but the Orangeburg township didn't exist until the 1730s.
Q: What area would be considered the Orangeburg District?
A: In 1790, the area would have been part of the St. Matthews Parish, not Orangeburg. Then by 1790 that territory that was eventually going to become part of Dorchester County had moved into what was then Orangeburg. … Really something as a "district" didn't exist in 1769, and two parishes covered what was eventually part of the Orangeburg area. In 1865 Orangeburg picked up part of Barnwell County, then lost part of that territory to Calhoun. No matter the term — "county," "parish," whatever — it was actually what was consider the election district. The county deeds office is the right place to look to see the county boundaries changing. After the Revolution, they began keeping records in Orangeburg at the Court House. It's interesting to see the boundaries change over the years.
Q: I thought almost any legal action, including the recording of deeds, had to be taken to Charleston during this time.
A: Orangeburg became a Court House town in 1769 with the Circuit Court Act, which created various court house districts in the Carolina backcountry.
Q: How much is known about the early settlers of the Orangeburg area?
A: A fair amount of the history that is available is in the German language as diaries. The Rev. Giessendammer kept a diary for which there is a Web site now. It's been translated by a descendant. … They were known for their thrift and for their hard industry, and they were a clannish people.
"South Carolina: A History," page 56: Among German names found in the colonial records were Amaker, Boozer, Geiger, Harmon, Hutto, Inabinet, Kalteisen, Lever, Lorick, Rast, Sheeley, Shuler, Theus, Wannamaker and Ziegler.
Page 62: Endogamy, marrying within the community, seemed to hold true in these areas until after the American Revolution.
Q: Why were the early settlers German?
A: The Germans were there (in Orangeburg and the other backcountry settlements) because the recruiting of settlers from other countries was part of the plan. They wanted to set up communities that could ring around Charleston for protection against the Native Americans. A number of these townships took on a certain character; Orangeburg became German.
Pages 55-56, 62:
A large group of Germans had come to South Carolina in July 1735, attracted to the promise of 50 acres. Some didn't have enough money to pay for their passage and sold themselves or their children into indentured servitude for a period of years. … "When their service was up, they were not embarrassed to call themselves 'redemptioners.'"
Not like most indentured servants, these Germans usually came in family groups and weren't destitute. Generally they had disposed of land or other nonmovable property, so they had some capital with which to start. Selling their children as servants was just a means of paying for family's way to South Carolina. "Those able to provide for themselves settled in Orangeburg Township, but a few went to the Amelia Township. … These settlers, thrust to the outer frontier, were supposed to be a buffer between the Cherokee and the prosperous rice-growing area along the coast."
In 1752, 1,500 Germans came into the state, making the Commons House consider changing the laws that limited support to British settlers, but the Royal Council intervened, and the change wasn't made.
South Carolina's Germans were from Baden, Wurttemberg, the Palatinate, other small German states, and the German-speaking cantons of Switzerland.
In 1761, under terms of the Bounty Act, 300 Palatine Germans were transported to Charleston. According to government officials, most of them were sick, and 45 had died.
By the end of the colonial period, the Germans were 5 percent of the South Carolina white population. Almost all of them lived in Amelia, New Windsor, Orangeburg, Saxe-Gotha and Londonborough townships. The latter three were overwhelmingly German. Ethnic identity seems to have been maintained longer in the townships and on the frontier, and the Germans retained their own customs and language in some rural areas until early 20th century.
Even when some residents of Orangeburg converted to the Church of England in the 1750s, their German-speaking priest, the Rev. John Giessendanner, supplied them with a German edition of the Book of Common Prayer.
Q: Who made "the plan" and what was it?
Page 54-56: In 1730, Gov. Robert Johnson presented a "Scheem … for Settling Townships" to the Board of Trade as a plan for the orderly settlement of the South Carolina frontier. The board authorized the townships as a buffer for the already settled area to serve as a defense against the Indians and the Spaniards (Edgar said the Spanish threat was not a concern as far north as Orangeburg) and to attract more white settlers to counteract the burgeoning black population.
Townships were to contain 20,000 acres with six-mile sides. Settlers were to receive 50 acres per family member, plus money for tools, transportation and food. Quit rents paid to the government would be waived for 10 years. By 1759, there were nine original townships, all accessible to navigable rivers. Orangeburg was the one on the North Edisto River.
Q: How did the settlers feel about being used like this, as a buffer against the Native Americans?
A: They were happy to get the land, and because they were being shipped to the frontierland, these Germans were put on the best farmland in South Carolina. And there weren't many Native Americans in the Orangeburg area at that time.
Page 206: In 1756, after the French-Indian War, the Native Americans were enraged that the British had refused to give them protection against their rival tribes. War touched communities as far east as Saxe-Gotha and Orangeburg.
Weren't there furniture-makers in Orangeburg in those early years?
Page 194: By the 1760s, there were joiners and cabinetmakers in Orangeburg, as well as Charleston, Beaufort and Georgetown. Items they made were in the latest fashion. Although otherwise flamboyant, most wealthy South Carolinians preferred simple but graceful furniture.
Q: What were the Germans of the South Carolina frontier like?
A: The person who knows the most about the Germans of that time would be Horace Harmon of the Lexington County Museum. (See related story in this edition.) The Germans of Orangeburg are very close to those of Saxe-Gotha (now Lexington) because they settled in Orangeburg and then moved up the Congaree to Saxe-Gotha and then up the Saluda River to Newberry and Laurens. They were handy, made furniture and quilts; they were good cooks, known for scrapple, souse, head cheese, sauerkraut.
Q: Who were the people who came in from Pennsylvania by way of the mountains? Were they Germans?
A: No, those who came from Pennsylvania were Scots-Irish and English who came here because of the land grants. The Germans came up from Charleston.
Q: If the Germans were Lutheran, why did they make Orangeburg a parish of the Anglican church? Did they force the Lutherans to become Anglican?
A: The overwhelming majority stayed Lutheran. It was a governmental decision to form the parishes, not just a church decision, but a political decision.
Q: Where was the Anglican church?
A: There was first an Anglican church created in St. Matthews, and the congregation descended from that original church.
Q: But did both the Anglican and Lutheran congregations have churches in that area?
A: Yes. Daniel Culler Marchant, in his "Orangeburgh District, 1768-1868 History and Records," says Orangeburg had both a Lutheran and an Anglican church, and was a "neatly laid out" town with taverns and stores, a courthouse and jail and a number of small homes. … A description of early Orangeburg can be found in Salley's history, and it talks about the little church there.
Q: Did the Germans in Orangeburg own slaves?
A: One of the general myths is that the Germans didn't have slaves; they did. They wouldn't have developed such a large black population in that area if they hadn't. As they became more wealthy, they would become slaveowners. … By the 1770s the Orangeburg population began to purchase slaves, and in the 1790s, with the invention of the cotton gin, the black population really grew.
Page 271: In 1790 Jacob Wannamaker of the Orangeburg District owned no slaves; in 1830, he had 69. Before 1790, cotton was so labor-intensive that the use of slave labor was cost-prohibitive.
Q: How did they fare as farmers?
A: They turned their township into the breadbasket of South Carolina. By the American Revolution, the Germans of Orangeburg and Amelia had produced enough wheat to satisfy South Carolina and had some left over for export to the other 12 colonies.
Pages 191-192: Before the 1760s, wheat flour was imported from Philadelphia, but in the late 1760s, Orangeburg flour came on the market and a two-tier pricing system evolved. Local flour was less expensive.
Q: Was indigo a big crop in Orangeburg?
A: It was grown in the Orangeburg area before and after the Revolution, but after the war it was grown just for domestic use. In South Carolina, indigo was generally inferior to that of the West Indies because our growers took shortcuts in the production.
Page 146: West Indian indigo was harder to obtain during the French-Indian War (1756-1763), and thus there was a demand for South Carolina indigo into which the backcountry small farmers tapped. It was grown commercially as far inland as Orangeburg. Post-war, it was second in importance to rice, and the market grew despite the reputed poor quality of our indigo caused by the use of limewater to speed up the process.
What other products came out of 18th-century Orangeburg?
Page 146: In 1771, Lt. Gov. William Bull interceded with a London commercial society to subsidize the Rhenish-like winemaking of Christopher Sherb, a German immigrant who lived on the Broad River in Orangeburg Township, where he had more than 1,600 vines. Because grapes (muscadines, bullises, and scuppernongs) grew wild here, colonists had anticipated that good wine could be made here, but other winemakers here weren't as successful.
Q: What was Orangeburg's local government like in those days?
Page 205: In the 18th century, the land more than 50 miles inland was called "the backcountry." There were few roads, no schools or courts. People had to travel on horse or by wagon to Charleston to register a deed, prove a will, swear out a warrant or file a lawsuit. The only government employees in the backcountry were the justice of the peace and the tax assessor. The legislature organized backcountry militia units to protect against a slave revolt. Society in the 1750s backcountry was unstable and unorganized.
Q: Orangeburg has been labeled "the Gateway to the Lowcountry," but looking at the history, do you see it as part of the Lowcountry?
A: No, Orangeburg was not considered part of the Lowcountry. It is similar to Richland and Spartanburg and other counties in the Upstate. It was primarily a cotton-based agriculture, as opposed to the rice-based Lowcountry. As a matter of fact, Orangeburg and the other counties that ran across the middle of the state called themselves the "Middle Country" in the 1900s. People usually consider the boundary for the Lowcountry to be across Hampton, Colleton, Clarendon, Marion and the bottom half of Florence.
Q: What do you see as the character of Orangeburg in the early days of colonial settlement?
A: I see it as the "Breadbasket of Colonial South Carolina," producing so much wheat and other foodstuffs, and the interesting thing is that, with a century off for cotton, it has continued that historical tradition.
Q: Were there ever problems with the Native Americans?
Page 206: The Cherokees began to attack frontier settlements during the 1750s because of broken promises and violence by the British, and there was talk of war. Many frontier settlers began to move closer to the coast. In February 1760, Cherokees attacked a refugee wagon train near Long Cane Creek, and among those killed and mutilated was John C. Calhoun's grandmother. Within days the war touched Orangeburg and Saxe-Gotha
All along the frontier, chaos reigned. Settlers crowded into disease-ridden makeshift forts. Those in charge embezzled government money and supplies, and extorted high prices for food. Outside, the militia and others helped themselves to settlers' property.
Q: So there was a crime problem in the backcountry?
Page 211-212: The Cherokees were finally subdued in 1761, but then law-abiding settlers in the backcountry were beset by "Va crackers and rebells."
During the war, even decent citizens had taken property when the owner was not around, maybe assuming he was dead or never coming back. This disrespect for property rights continued after the French-Indian War. Squatters, poachers, and thieves were a real problem, but organized gangs were an even greater threat.
Q: There were gangs then too?
Page 212: This crime problem was part of a larger pattern going from Pennsylvania to Georgia. The gangs were an assortment of genuine criminals and people who had turned to it during war. They were democratic, so runaway slaves and Indians were part of it and were also among their victims.
Q: What did the gangs do?
Page 212: In the summer of 1766, there was a crime wave in the backcountry. Anyone with money was tortured until revealing where it was. Females as young as 10 were raped and kidnapped. Hot coals or pokers put to feet and other parts of the anatomy. Country stores and taverns were robbed, and if the owners resisted, the gangs would burn them down with the owner inside.
Q: Where was the militia during this crime wave?
Page 212-213: Charleston wasn't backing up the backcountry, so residents there took the law into their own hands, turned on the bandits, burned their hideouts and whipped those they caught. Open hostilities broke out between those who wanted to build communities and those who didn't. On Oct. 6, 1767, then-Gov. Montagu, who considered them nothing but an unruly mob, ordered the vigilantes to disperse. He was ignored.
Q: Who were the Regulators?
Page 213: The separate resistance groups joined into a band known as "the Regulators." They were the substantial citizens of the backcountry who just wanted law and order. They probably numbered about 3,000 to 6,000 at times, but the active nucleus was comprised of about 500. Many were small planters who resented those who didn't work for what they had. Many were property owners; the leaders were slave owners.
The Regulators submitted a petition to the House of Commons on Nov. 7, 1767, asking for courts, courthouses, jails and schools to help bring "good order and harmony" to the backcountry. The Commons House authorized mounted ranger units, who moved fast and defeated the outlaws.
Q: Was that the end of the Regulator movement?
Page 213-214: No. There were still "rogues, and other idle, worthless, vagrant People" who posed danger to property and stole fruit and corn. So the Regulators met in 1768 and adopted a plan to deal with them. The Plan of Regulation was the only law. For three years, this plan was the only law of the colony 50 miles landward, which was effectively cut off from the Lowcountry.
Q: Did the Regulators get carried away with their self-governing?
Page 214-215: The Regulators intervened in all aspects of life, including family relationships, disciplining wayward husbands, enforcing debt collection, whipping whores and silencing those associated with the rogues. Some settled old scores. Cruel and unusual punishment occurred. Flogging to excess became entertainment. If victims went to court, the "law and order" movement turned violent. Gov. William Bull ordered that the Regulators were to be suppressed and anyone who kept the peace from that time on would be pardoned. He was ignored.
Q: So the Regulator movement eventually prevailed?
Page 215: The Regulators cowed the "baser sort" and achieved some representation in the House of Commons in the 1768 election. The following year a Circuit Court Act authorized spending 7,000 pounds ($83,500 today) for land, courthouses and jails in Orangeburg, Beaufort, Camden, Cheraw, Georgetown and Ninety Six.
Q: Would you say Orangeburg folks were leaders in the Regulator movement?
A: No, there were Regulators all over the frontier, and they were probably stronger in the Pee Dee. But Orangeburg was a place where folks felt they weren't being treated well by the government in Charleston.
Q: Who were the Moderators?
Page 215-216: The circuit courts didn't begin functioning until 1772, so an alliance that called itself "the Moderators" grew between some of the most prosperous residents of the backcountry who wanted law and order and a "lower sort" who wanted revenge against the Regulators. When representatives of the Moderators sought help from the governor, he asked for volunteers from the militia to help, but almost no one responded. Joseph Coffell of Orangeburg was recruited to be the Moderators leader, and Coffell assembled "a motley band" (of about 600) to go after the Regulators.
A: (Coffell later took the British side during the Revolution, so he's not necessarily someone that you want to paint a hero.)
Q: What caused the demise of the Regulator/Moderator movements?
Page 216: On March 1769, William Thomson of Orangeburg and Richard Richardson of the High Hills of Santee, two of the most respected men in the backcountry, talked a band of Moderators and an equal number of Regulators into a truce at the junction of the Bush and Saluda rivers.
Both movements essentially ended at that time. The Regulator movement was over, its goal of eliminating the outlaws and spanking the "lower sort" achieved. In 1771, the governor pardoned most of the Regulators. The Moderators had also succeeded in their goal; they had checked a vigilante movement that had gotten out of control.
Q: Wasn't William Thomson involved from the beginning in the American Revolution?
Page 222-223: When South Carolina began bucking against England's control, the colonists convened a "Provincial Congress." At a January 1775 meeting, they learned that the British intended to use force against South Carolina and the other colonies, so they voted to raise a force of three regiments (500 men in each). One was to be a mounted ranger unit under the command of Col. William Thomson of Orangeburg, the same man who had earlier negotiated the Moderator/Regulator truce.
Q: How did the Germans and others in the backcountry feel about fighting the British?
Pages 216, 223, 225: Many of its residents had more quarrels with Charleston's provincial government than with the British, and it seemed to them that the Lowcountry elite was interested only in protecting itself. The Provincial Congress sent Richard Richardson of the High Hills, William Henry Drayton, Joseph Kershaw of Camden and some ministers to meet with a group of German settlers in the Dutch Fork area of Saxe-Gotha. In his journal, Drayton wrote that the Germans there were not for or against the Congress; they just wanted to be left alone. This attitude was found elsewhere in the backcountry, and the disagreement within the state, Edgar writes, continued until the Great Compromise of 1808.
Q: How did Orangeburg figure into the Revolution?
A: William "Old Danger" Thomson was Orangeburg's Revolutionary hero.
Page 237: During the Revolutionary War, the British were controlling the strong points, but the countryside belonged to the partisans. Patriot Gen. Nathanael Greene's army kept the main British force occupied, while the partisans picked off the British garrisons one by one: Fort Motte in Calhoun County, Orangeburg, Fort Watson in Clarendon County, Fort Granby in Lexington County, Fort Galphin in Aiken County, Georgetown and Monck's Corner in Berkeley County.
Greene fought the British unsuccessfully in Kershaw County and Ninety Six during mid 1781, but then the British withdrew from those posts. After resting his men in the High Hills of Santee for the rest of the summer, Greene moved toward the coast. On Sept. 5, at Eutaw Springs in Orangeburg County, Greene's army initially won.
"Then the hungry and nearly naked men (some had put Spanish moss between their skin and their equipment to prevent chafing) broke into the main British camp and became a drunken, disorderly mob."
The British countered and drove the Americans back, but had suffered irreplaceable losses.
"There were other battles after Eutaw Springs, but none of any strategic significance."
Nancy Wooten may be reached at 803-533-5540 or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information for this article comes from an interview with USC history professor Walter Edgar or is paraphrased from "South Carolina; A History" by Walter Edgar, University of South Carolina Press: Columbia, 1998.
Professor Walter Edgar received his A.B. degree from Davidson College in 1965 and his Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina in 1969. After two years in the Army (including a tour of duty in Vietnam), he returned to USC as a post-doctoral fellow of the National Archives, assigned to the Papers of Henry Laurens.
In 1972 he joined the faculty of the History Department and in 1980 was named director of the Institute for Southern Studies. Dr. Edgar is the Claude Henry Neuffer Professor of Southern Studies and the George Washington Distinguished Professor of History.
He has written or edited numerous books about South Carolina and the American South, including "South Carolina: A History," the first new history of the state in more than 60 years. With more than 37,000 copies in print and a newly released audio edition, it has been a publishing phenomenon. His most recent book, "Partisans & Redcoats: The Southern Conflict that Turned the Tide of the American Revolution," is in its fourth printing and an audio edition is available.
Edgar has two weekly radio shows heard statewide on S.C. Educational Radio: "Walter Edgar's Journal," a look at contemporary issues in a historical context, and "Southern Read," a reading of works by some of the best contemporary Southern writers.
In addition to his university service, he has been active in the community and served as an officeholder or board member of numerous organizations including the South Caroliniana Society, Heathwood Hall Episcopal School, Historic Columbia Foundation, Columbia Museum of Art and the Friends of the Richland County Public Library. In 1995 he retired as a colonel in the Army Reserves after 30 years of commissioned service.
He is married to Elizabeth Giles (Betty), and they have two grown daughters, Eliza (who lives in Washington) and Amelia (who lives in Los Angeles). In his spare time, he enjoys reading, gardening and squash.